Food and Drink

nella cucina di mamma

I was in such a bad mood yesterday. Well, all week. And people just grew more and more tiresome, which made it seem worse. But then I got a few groceries, including two chicken breast halves for 1.49/lb.  You can make quick(er) stock with those than with a whole chicken if you need to. I mean, of course, the breasts that still have the bones in. Don't make stock with no bones. It's got no soul, for one thing. And etc., but that's for another post or Google, if you like.

Here are three photos I took of preparing to cook, because I realized it was just what I needed to find a better frame of mind. For the past few days, I've just been cooking to feed, but yesterday I cooked with pleasure to feed with pleasure.

I didn't add carrots and celery tops to my stock; instead I used some organic (since I didn't get it from my own garden) rosemary, thyme, and sage. And an onion, garlic, and peppercorns. It cooked  for only an hour, but then I had lots of beautiful tender breast meat I can use for something today.


There's at least 4 cups of meat there.

So then I went to work making split-pea soup. Now, I make that for a lot of people. And I never make it precisely the same way twice. But you can do this, generally, in half quantities, and it will be nice.

14 cups of broth and/or water My quick stock came to 10 cups, so I add 4 of water.

2 lbs split peas. You can add yellow ones, okay by me.

1.5 lbs boneless ham. (Usually I start with a smoked ham hock or two, but the store had only ginormous packages of them, for some reason. It was hardly economical since I wanted some ham as well.)


1-2 cups chopped carrots
. If you have celery, add some of that so that it's about 2 cups total. The tops are nice and peppery-tasting, but you want to chop them well.

An onion and plenty of garlic


A spoonful of mixed dried Italian seasoning with no salt (My mama would say, "a nice amount of it.") Because it's winter and nothing grows well inside here. If you have fresh, go for it. Oregano or marjoram, thyme, etc., but add them late in the game instead of how I do it below.

Lots of pepper, and some sea salt, depending on your ham. Check near the end of cooking.

I chop the onions and garlic in the food processor so my youngest daughter (19) won't complain the onions are in the way (but I'd prefer very thin slices,) soften them briefly with the dried seasoning in a tablespoon of butter inside a large pot, then add the liquid and other ingredients. Bring to a boil, simmer and stir every few minutes for about an hour and a half. Add more pepper as you like and check for salt.


If you use a smoked ham hock or two, take it out after about an hour and pull the meat off the bone, then put it back in. You can add a little ham to it then, if you like.

And serve it with cornbread! Here's a VERY casual presentation because I was in the middle of other things.

By the way, I've rarely had homemade cornbread that was better, at least in soup and things, than the Jiffy mix. It's like 35 cents a box and you can add stuff to it if you want to. I use two boxes and usually bake it in a 13x9 cake pan. You can crumble it up for lovely stuffing/dressing, as well.

While the soup was simmering, I made cookies. I wanted to make a pie or cobbler, but was a bit low on fruit. So, cookies. I'd been promising chocolate chip lately but there weren't many left! (The trend you sense is that *today* is restocking pantry/freezer day.)

That's a 3 lb bag, by the way. So anyway, to make up for the lack of chips, I added coconut. If it were all up to me, I'd have added finely chopped walnuts as well, but a couple people here prefer for that to be a rare addition. And the coconut was a good idea, as it turns out. They are a nice balance of crispy and chewy.

A couple more things; you may have notice the trend in food blogs to show a photo of every. step. of. the. process. I think they're just in love with their pretty photos. But you know what eggs in a bowl look like by now. However, this was all about making me feel more happy, so here are a couple more things I love. :-)

I don't know how much brown sugar this is; I think maybe 3 lbs. The container holds 5 lbs of flour. I LOVE having lots of fresh brown sugar. My mom cooked and baked a lot, too, but I seem to recall there always being insufficient, dried-out brown sugar in her canister when I wanted it for my oatmeal.

Whirring dough in my magical machine! And lots and lots of lovely vanilla.

Well, and here's my little table where only I sit, for happy cooking mama time.

old-fashioned new cocktail

(regular-type food post later tonight)

This website has some cool old genever recipes, but I can't keep a lot of special little bar items around, so I, as usual, modified the Gin Daisy recipe—as follows:

2 oz Bols Genever
2 tsp St-Germain
2 tsp almond (orgeat) syrup
juice from 1/2 Meyer lemon
2 shakes Fee Bros bitters

Shake, strain, pour over ice with a splash of soda and a thin lemon wedge.

I like it; it's very mild in flavor, but has a nice strong underbelly. It definitely tastes old-fashioned. It needs the tiniest bit of brightening, gonna think on that.

Here you go:

2011-03-03 17.57.51
You see I have a tiny bottle of St-Germain? Well. I ran out of the big beautiful expensive one, and put off replacing it. And then Joe Canal's had a 99 cent special on the samples, so I bought four of them. The lovely things will last through to summer, probably, for 4 dollars instead of 32.

2011-03-03 18.05.03

I've struggled to fully appreciate the Bols Genever, though I could tell I was tasting something kind of awesome when I first tasted it almost straight with just the tiniest squeeze of lemon. But it's rather fermented in character, and doesn't mix well with my usual combinations. It's cool, though, because it's forcing me to try some new things, and I'm liking them so far. It mixes just beautifully with the almond syrup. And I prefer it over ice; maybe I'm just not man enough to enjoy it up! For that, I need my usual Hendrick's gin. It's lovely to have both to choose from.

Who loves you, artichoke baby?

I made an artichoke dip. Not finding a recipe quite like I wanted, I just mixed and matched what I learned about them, baked it, and made crostini for spreading.

I forgot I wanted to add a squinch of lemon juice. I'd recommend that. Here's what I did use, and I think it's pretty good:

12 oz jar marinated artichoke hearts, drained & chopped
8 oz cream cheese
1 cup sour cream (this is approximate. I just added it until it seemed like the right consistency.)
5 oz shaved aged parmesan
1 garlic clove, minced
1/4-1/2 tsp freshly ground pepper
1/4 tsp sea salt

sprinkled with seasoned bread crumbs and paprika.

This is very chunky and semi-cheesy, which is how I like it. Many of the recipes I saw, though, used much more cheese and much less artichoke. Obviously, it's one of those things you easily adjust for your own taste. Next time I will definitely add the lemon juice, but I thought it was still pretty good this way. A splash of lemon juice is always a good idea; brightens it up. Another suggestion I'd make is to shake in a few drops of hot sauce.

For the crostini, I just chopped up some Italian bread, brushed it with olive oil, sprinkled sea salt on it, then baked it. That's basically all it is, though it's cool if you rub garlic cloves over it before baking, too.

Here are some lazy phone pix. :-)


And behold the artichoke in nature...


A Cosmo-style cocktail for gin lovers

This is a somewhat large and strong drink. A little sweeter than my usual taste, but not cloying.

3 oz gin (I used Hendrick's. Tanqueray Ten or Miller's would be good. Not so sure about Sapphire, since I don't like that, but it does work with fruity mixes. Probably not Junipero, though that makes a swell martini.)

1 oz orange liqueur (I used, and usually have, Patron Citronge.)

1 oz cranberry juice cocktail (Try one sweetened with sugar, not corn syrup, so it's cleaner on the palate.)

1/4 oz fresh or bottled unsweetened lime juice (I use Nellie & Joe's when I don't have fresh limes.)

I shook this with ice and strained it into a cute little wine glass. Of course, a regular cocktail stem is fine. Or you could pour it into a short glass over ice and add just a splash of soda. Garnish with orange or lime wedge; last night I was too lazy, but that is not a good excuse at all.


Oh—I don't enjoy pointing this out, but you could use vodka. Only you'll want a citrus-infused one, to parallel the floral essence of the gin. And then it's just a plain ol' Cosmopolitan, which you probably already knew how to make, anyway...!

Slow-cooker lasagna, a pictorial + recipe

I make this differently in winter than summer. In summer, I usually make my own sauce, but in winter, it's semi-homemade or from jars. Also, I don't always use meat. I think lasagna is best without it. But when I do use meat, I use a little extra sauce.

Yesterday I decided to try it in the slow cooker. I  cooked it on high for a little less than 3 hours, then broiled the top in the oven. I am not sure the amount of time that would be best if you cook it on low, but if you have a timer, you can set it to turn on and then off 30 minutes before serving.

Here's how I did it yesterday in a 7 quart (about 7.5 liter) slow cooker, to serve 6 with leftovers:


1/2 large onion, medium dice

1 1/2 lbs mild Italian sausage, casing removed

Cooked the onion in a large pan with olive oil (I buy large bottles of extra-virgin at Costco and use it in just about everything,) then added sausage, broken up and stirred til almost done.

2 jars of Wegman's pasta sauce (they had it on sale for 89 cents recently so I bought lots. It has only nice ingredients in it,) stirred in. Plus most of another jar for assembly, which I would not use if I left out the sausage.


Cheese filling:

This part is mostly not negotiable. It is the martini recipe of lasagna filling; simple, classic, always correct.

4 cups mozzarella cheese, grated + another 2/3-1 cup

3 cups whole milk ricotta cheese

1/2 cup asiago cheese, grated (usually I use parmiggiano, and romano would be okay.)

2 eggs

2-3 tbs mixed Italian seasoning (adjust depending on the sauce you're using)


Also: 12 pieces lasagna pasta, uncooked. (unless using oven, then cook in boiling water for only about 5 minutes.) In a lasagna pan you need 16.

Put a little sauce in the bottom of the pan, add 3 pieces lasagna, broken to fit. Obviously you don't need to break them if you're using a standard lasagna pan (or two cake pans, with one less layer in each.) Layer sauce, then 1/3 cheese mixture over it, rinse, repeat twice. Add the final 3 pieces of lasagna, spoon over some sauce, and then enough mozzarella (and more of the other cheese if you like) to lightly cover the top.


If you bake it in the oven, you bake it at 350º covered for about 50 minutes, then remove the foil to brown it for another 15-20 minutes. Let it cool before serving.

For the slow cooker, I added a little extra sauce around the perimeter to make sure the noodle edges would be cooked. I could tell it was done and ready to be browned by how it looked all melded together, and stuck a knife through the middle to check the noodles. It went through easily at just under 3 hours, but I could tell it was not mushy. Then I put the crock in the oven and browned it on the low broiler setting for about 5 minutes.


If your slow cooker is smaller than 6 quarts, this recipe will be too large. I would suggest comparing this recipe to another casserole one you like to adjust quantities. If you make this recipe using 9x13 cake pans, you can freeze one for later. You can cook it for the first 45 minutes, let it cool for a few minutes, then seal it well to freeze, thaw and reheat later. Or you can freeze it uncooked, as well—it'll take a couple of hours to cook from frozen that way.

Leftovers for lunch? Are the best. Even though this picture really is not.



My boy made cookies

These are Chocolate Chip Treasure Cookies from Eagle Brand condensed milk. I have their Holiday Recipe book and use it for several treats. This particular recipe uses all the ingredients of Magic Cookie Bars, our favorite Christmas treat, but in drop cookie form. You can click on the picture with the book open to see the recipe. :-)

Pounding graham crackers into crumbs Mashing

Mixing up a mess Stir

Batter and recipe Batter

Cookies! Cookies

Cooking/baking catch up, updated

Addendum at end.

You may know that I've been ill; I've been very sedentary for a month, with pretty much just Thanksgiving day and a couple of shopping days to take me out of my bedroom or off the couch. I've done very little real cooking, though we've had a few nice slow cooker meals. I prepared the fruit for the fruit bread, but then didn't bake it.  When I do have energy, it's all consumed bringing the kitchen back to a measure of sanity after being mostly used by teenagers who mean well, but only so well.

Last night I got my refrigerator well-organized for the first time since the middle of November. With a family this large and a refrigerator that small, and no more stand-up freezer to boot, the weekly cleanout is super important, and organization is crucial. So it felt good to straighten everything out, inspiring me to have a nice Sunday cooking afternoon.

I'm making chicken broth, even though the kids froze both my chickens. I cook one each week, as you may know, but I buy them two at a time, cooking one within a few days and freezing the other. I figure to slowly heat the frozen chicken in a large pot of water, then bring it up to boiling temperature as soon as possible, so it will be safely ready to work with.

I'm putting a piece of chuck roast in the slow cooker with some potatoes and fresh green beans. And onions, of course!


Then I hope to make cookies. It's cookie season, hurrah. We always have magic cookie bars, lemon squares, and sugar cookies at this time of year, but if I'm feeling all right over the next week or so, I'll also make some Italian-American treats, as well.

As to the fruit and nuts, I have to see if it all got very fermented; it may be all right to bake with, but if it isn't, I'll have to take my lumps for not finishing what I started, I guess. I'm still coughing pretty often, especially when tired or cold or moving around much. So I can only feel so bad about having put that off.

I think the picture of the fruit mixture is on the other computer. So we forge on.

Regarding fruit cake:

In place of the fruit suggested in the recipe, I used

9 oz dried plums
9 oz dried apricots
6 oz dates
12 oz cherry craisins

I might have used dried pears instead of apricots or prunes, but I didn't see those at the nearby store and was already too ill for a real shopping trip.



The fruit and nuts were soaked in bourbon and amaretto for ages while I was sick, but then I ended up adding 3 tbs of Irish Mist to the batter, and that's what I'm going to brush the cake with, because it suits the flavors well and is also much less expensive! Altogether this cake cost over 25 dollars to make, but I am certain it could be done for less than 20. Which is still a lot for a cake, but that's sort of the point, isn't it? It's meant to be an expensive once-a-year endeavor. Means something that way.



I didn't get any cookies made, and was so exhausted by 7 pm, which is when Mom's Movie Night begins, but it was good to get some things done.

Still using up garden peppers: stuffed peppers mid-century-style

And there are still more to pick before I pull up the garden!

Anyway, they're all small now, but they are still good. Many vegetables are quite satisfactory to use before they reach "full size." Some are actually better that way.

So I found this recipe and tweaked it to suit my tastes and what I have here. The one thing I'd do differently is add more oregano, as the recipe called for. I don't know why I didn't go out and pick some; instead, I used an Italian seasoning blend. It was good, but wanted more oregano, as well.

I also doubled the amounts, which was way more than I needed, but I thought I'd cook the rest of it on the stovetop for lunch today.


Because I made part of it into meatloaf, I didn't add water to the pan. And I did the tomatoes differently; I used a cup of freshly chopped tomatoes and then added canned crushed tomatoes to make up my two cups. If you want it a lot firmer, I wouldn't advise that, but I like it to be kind of saucy.

Just a bit of the Sunday cooking

I wrote out this whole thing, including the recipe for the apple cake, but then had to force-restart my computer, and lost it all. But the apple cake recipe isn't just right yet; good crumb, yet just not quite moist enough. Anyway. I'll make another one next week and let you know. I might add some pumpkin to the batter.

Also, I roasted a chicken instead of making chicken stock. Wegmans had roasters for .79/lb, so it seemed the thing to do. I added artichoke hearts and crimini mushrooms to the pan. Maybe I'll make stock with the leftovers, but I still have another chicken for boiling in the refrigerator. :-)



Cooking/stock up/new tripod yay!

I feel like living in my kitchen this weekend. I replaced the PUR filter on the faucet with a better one, did a great stock-up grocery day yesterday, it's kinda cold out, the liquor cabinet is in good shape, there's ale in the refrigerator, AND I finally got a new tripod!

(Also plan to enjoy the fireplace later, and we've downloaded The Apartment from the PlayStation network, but that's maybe for the other blog.)

One downside? The ignitor in my oven has stopped working! It's either clogged or bad, so I have to call the PSE&G Worry-Free people and set up an appointment.

We got the Thanksgiving roaster oven out of the garage, and I'm going to see just what it's like to bake cookies in that. I'll do my lamb roast in it as well. And I have the new slow cooker for other things. It'll be okay.  I'm going to cook happily & share photos happily, and pretend I don't mind that I have to wear socks inside and shoes outside now.

First up, of course, this week's chicken stock.


When's the last time one of my kitchen pictures looked that decent, eh? It's an outmoded camera, in the digital camera world, but it's fine for now.

Don't peel the vegetables when you make stock, or chop off the ends. Also, leave in the neck. :-)